Infielder Eduard Nunez has been deemed ready to return to the Boston Red Sox roster in time for the ALDS against the Houston Astros.
One of the biggest questions lingering over the Boston Red Sox heading into the postseason has been answered. Eduardo Nunez will be available when the American League Division Series kicks off in Houston on Thursday against the Astros.
Nunez has been sidelined since September 25 by a knee injury that caused him to miss 20 of the final 22 games. That included the four-game series against the Astros to wrap up the regular season schedule. Boston dropped three out of four in that series but they’ll have some reinforcements in the lineup for the rematch.
Manager John Farrell revealed that Nunez has been deemed ready to return after a pair of successful workouts this week, including a simulated game against Roenis Elias on Monday. Coming out of that experience without soreness and being able to get back on the field for drills the next day has led the manager to feel confident that Nunez is ready.
"“I think yesterday, if he’s in pain he’s not doing the things he did yesterday,” Farrell told reporters, per WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford. “So whether it was change in direction, simulating game-like at-bats, and explosive baserunning, that was encouraging, very encouraging yesterday.”"
Nunez will wear a knee brace during games, which provides stability to help prevent a recurrence of the injury but will also take some getting used to. In addition to fielding ground balls, Nunez also spent time on Tuesday practicing running the bases and sliding with the brace on. It’s an adjustment but the more familiar he gets with wearing the brace the more comfortable Nunez will be playing with it.
While Nunez will be available for this series, it remains to be seen if he’ll be in the lineup for Game 1. He spent most of his time with the Red Sox covering second base but Dustin Pedroia‘s return means that spot is no longer available. Nunez is capable of playing third base or shortstop, although Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers both started to heat up down the stretch so it may be difficult to take either out of the lineup.
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Farrell seems reluctant to bench the struggling Hanley Ramirez, despite that designated hitter is the best spot to utilize Nunez in – especially coming off an injury.
Nunez is 5-for-15 (.333) with two doubles in his career against Houston’s Game 1 starter, Justin Verlander. Few other Red Sox hitters have had success against the former MVP, including Ramirez (3-for-13 without an extra-base hit). The choice to DH seems clear, even if Farrell doesn’t see it.
We should at least expect to see Nunez in the lineup for Game 2 against lefty Dallas Keuchel. The Red Sox often bench the left-handed-hitting Mitch Moreland against southpaws, so Nunez could slide into the DH role for that game with Ramirez covering first base.
In 38 games since he was acquired in a trade with the San Francisco Giants, Nunez leads the team with a .321 average and .892 OPS. He blasted eight home runs during that span after only hitting four through 76 games with the Giants this season.
A healthy Nunez is one of the team’s best hitters and he’s versatile enough to fill in at multiple positions. One way or another, the Red Sox need to find a spot for him in the lineup as much as they can this postseason.